Ross Sleight, chief strategy officer at Somo Global and One Question advisory board member answers the one question, what does brand really mean?
Brands live, grow and die in our heads. Brands are self-constructed; narratives we build for ourselves based on our own, and others, experiences and impressions. What I think of a brand could be wildly different to what you think of it.
The famous Ad Man Jeremy Bullmore once said: “People build brands as birds build nests, from scraps and straws we chance upon.” Now in pre-digital days, these scraps were actually quite scarce; the biggest influence on our view of brands came from advertising and PR. These were the conduit for corporate brand managers to communicate to us, to ensure that their view of what you should think about their products and services consisted of the most accessible, relevant and entertaining scraps to build your brand nest. Advertising and PR worked so well due in part to the absence of other information about a brand.
But inevitably digital has disrupted this. Today we have unlimited access to scraps and straws about brands a click away. From social media content to influencers to reviews – all have a part to play in how we build our brand stories. Importantly, most of these are not controlled by brand managers anymore. Traditional Advertising is still a powerful channel, but today it competes for time and headspace with other media and content. Additionally, advertising budgets have moved closer to the point of transaction with performance channels such as search, and as we still struggle to create meaningful and impactful brand communications in digital media, we are just paying less attention overall.
Which is why today experience is the key opportunity for Product and Service owners to help people build their view of the brand, to communicate and differentiate their offering and bring to life the promise that was often made, (but not often delivered in reality) through Advertising. The experience someone has of a product or service has always been important, but crucially has been diminished over time by seeking operational efficiencies and cost savings that have negatively impacted that experience – the retail store looks shabby and staff are not well trained, we are held on a customer service call for twenty minutes enduring elevator music, the website is a hodgepodge of sales, not service journeys.
Experiences matter more than ever in building a brand. First, we are herd animals, and we put a lot of stock in other people’s experiences which are freely shared across social and review sites. Secondly, today many of our product and service experiences are primarily digital, or increasingly digital only. For example, for many of us, our experience of our bank is primarily through digital channels, supplemented by occasional branch visits or telephone calls when we cannot achieve what we want on our devices. The digital-only challengers in financial services like Monzo or Revolut have recognised this and crafted exceptional digital experiences which challenge the incumbents and set consumer expectations. They build their brands through experience first, advertising later (if at all) as they believe that digital experience is their key differentiator.
Poor experiences anywhere today are unacceptable. Poor digital experiences are commercial suicide as customer journeys increasingly turn to digital channels as a touchpoint. Advertising is a diminishing crutch if your product experience is poor. Fix your product experience first. It’s the simplest way to help people build and share a positive image of your brand.
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